Super Bowl XLIV Preview: 5 Potential MVPs not named Manning or Brees

As part of our ongoing coverage of Super Bowl XLIV, here are five potential MVP candidates outside of Peyton Manning and Drew Brees.

1. Reggie Wayne, WR, Colts
Wayne only caught three passes for 55 yards in the AFC title game, but that was because he was locked up with stout corner Darrelle Revis, who has a habit of limiting a receiver’s impact. But Wayne caught eight passes for 63 yards and a touchdown against the Ravens in the Divisional Round and Revis won’t be anywhere near the field come Sunday. Wayne has five 100-plus yard receiving efforts this season and one more could earn him the Super Bowl’s highest achievement (outside of a ring of course). He only caught two passes against the Bears the last time he played in the NFL title game, but they went for 61 yards and a touchdown. If his quarterback doesn’t yank the award away from him, then Wayne could be taking home the MVP hardware come Sunday night.

2. Marques Colston, WR, Saints
In an era dominated by diva receivers, Colston is one wideout that is easy to root for. He’s quiet, unselfish and brimming with talent. He’s also reliable and if he gets enough opportunities, he might explode on Sunday and earn the MVP award in his first ever trip to the Super Bowl. In the Divisional Round, Colston hauled in six passes for 83 yards and a touchdown, and seems to save his best performances for top competition. In Week 6 of the regular season against the Giants, he caught eight passes for 166 yards and a touchdown, and in Week 12 against the Patriots he hauled in four passes for 121 yards and a score. Even in a losing effort against Dallas in Week 15, he caught five passes for 86 yards, including a 35-yard strike that led to a Saints’ field goal early in the second quarter. Outside of Brees, the only reason Colston might not have a fair opportunity to win the MVP award is because he’s on a team that is loaded with other receiving weapons. This is where the aforementioned unselfishness comes in, because there’s no doubt that Colston would rather catch one pass for 10 yards and win, than catch 10 passes for 150 yards and lose.

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Saints welcome Sanchez to the NFL

It was bound to happen.

Mark Sanchez couldn’t continue to play like he was Joe Montana week after week without suffering a setback. The Saints proved to be Sancehz’s setback on Sunday by constantly harassing the rookie into three huge mistakes in the New Orleans’ 24-14 victory at the Superdome.

Sanchez’s first mistake came early in the second quarter when Darren Sharper intercepted his pass on the goal line, then returned it 99 yards for a touchdown. Two possessions later while backed up to his own end zone, Sanchez held onto the ball too long on a 2 and 7 from the 5-yard line and was sacked by Will Smith. Remi Ayodele recovered the fumble in the end zone to give the Saints a 17-0 lead early in the second.

Down 14 points with about five minutes remaining, Sanchez made his final mistake on a desperation fourth down play in which he was once again intercepted by Sharper. For as much swagger as Sanchez had played with throughout the year, he looked like a beaten rookie on Sunday.

This loss doesn’t fall squarely on the shoulders of Sanchez, though. New York offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer didn’t do the rookie any favors by failing to offer him max protection when the Saints proved early in the game that they could generate a pass rush with only their four down linemen. On multiple occasions, Charles Grant came off the edge untouched and forced Sanchez to scramble in attempt to make something happen.

It’s great that the Jets have confidence in Sanchez to make plays in the passing game, but Schottenheimer’s play-calling was atrocious and he should re-visit how he plans on protecting his quarterback in future weeks.

For the Saints, this win further proved their elite status in the NFL. Drew Brees and the passing game was held in check throughout the game, but Pierre Thomas and the Saints’ rushing attack racked up 153 yards and often kept the chains moving. Hopefully Sean Payton was paying attention to how hard Thomas ran throughout the game, so he doesn’t continue to leave the talented back on the sidelines in short-yardage situations.

The Saints defense has improved dramatically this season. Sharper has played like a man possessed and veterans like Roman Harper and Jabari Greer have stepped up in the secondary. New Orleans’ front four is as good as anyone in the league, too.

The NFC South is the Saints to lose, if not the conference.

How much longer until T.O. tries to ruin Trent Edwards’ life?

Zero receptions, 0 yards, 0 touchdowns. That was the stat line for Terrell Owens in the Bills’ 27-7 loss to the Saints on Sunday.

For the season, T.O. has five catches for 98 yards and one touchdown, which are rather pedestrian numbers for one of the best receivers in the league.

Don’t think for a second that Owens is going to let this fly. He figured that when he signed with the Bills this offseason, that he would be the center of their offense. But so far, he isn’t even quarterback Trent Edwards’ fourth option in the passing game.

When asked about Edwards’ decision-making following the loss, T.O. said: “I don’t want to answer that, because whatever I say you guys are going to turn it into however you want to say it.”

Don’t worry T.O., because we can still read between the lines. You’re pissed off and don’t like the play calling. You don’t think Edwards is making wise decisions and you want to have a bigger role in the offense.

Eventually, Owens will say all of this himself. If Tony Romo couldn’t keep him happy, then Edwards sure as hell won’t. I don’t blame the Bills for taking a shot on him in the offseason (what did they have to lose?), but they’re about to see the real T.O. emerge soon if he continues to be a ghost in their offense.

As for the Saints, it was nice to see Pierre Thomas rush for 126 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries. As long as he’s healthy, he needs to be a part of their offense, especially on a day where Drew Brees (16 of 29, 172 yards, 0 TDs) looked human.

Hopefully Sean Payton won’t shelve Thomas once Mike Bell is healthy again.

What is going on with the Saints’ running back situation?

According to Saints’ beat writer Jeff Duncan via his Twitter page, Lynell Hamilton took the first-team reps for New Orleans during practice on Wednesday. Duncan expects Hamilton to see a heavy workload against the Bills, which begs the question: What is going on with the Saints running back situation?

My question revolves around Sean Payton’s obvious hatred (okay, so I’m exaggerating) for Pierre Thomas, who practiced on Wednesday but who still isn’t seeing first-team reps in practice. I understand that he’s been battling a knee injury, but if he went through practice on Wednesday with no complications, why is Hamilton expected to get the majority of the rushing load on Sunday?

It stands to reason that the Saints may have possibly soured on Thomas, whom many people (me included) thought would have a breakout year in 2009. Thomas was supposed to be New Orleans’ every down back this year and the perfect complement to Reggie Bush. But whether it’s his knee or the possibility that he egged Payton’s house at some point during the offseason, Thomas has taken a backseat to other backs like Hamilton.

Just to get you up to speed on Hamilton, he went undrafted in 2008 and spent the entire season on the Saints’ practice squad. He made the team this year as a fourth back despite fumbling twice in the team’s preseason opener. Had Thomas and Bush not been dinged up entering the season, it stands to reason that Hamilton may not have even made the final roster.

And with that, it’s perplexing that Hamilton would get the start over Thomas this week. Again, maybe Payton and the Saints are still worried about Thomas’ knee and they’re taking it slow with him. But if they’ve soured on him being a No. 1 back, then do him (and fantasy football fans for that matter) a favor and either release him or trade him to a team that could use a runner with his skill set.

Here’s hoping Thomas eventually gets to shine in this league, because he certainly has the talent.

Unless this sorts itself out by week’s end, the message is clear: Stay away from Thomas/Hamilton this weekend if you can. The Saints might be taking it easy on Thomas during the week so that he can start on Sunday, or maybe they don’t feel good about his knee and are planning to give him another week by getting Hamilton ready to start. Hopefully, the Saints’ beat writers will get some answers for us, but HC Sean Payton is tight-lipped about injuries, so we may not get any before kickoff.

The top five best, worst and most improved offensive lines in the NFL

There’s a secret that most good fantasy football owners don’t want you to know: Knowing how good (or how bad) an offensive line is could be the difference between you making the playoffs in your league, and winning the whole damn thing.

The bottom line is that the offensive line is the key to whether or not an offense is going to be successful in any given season. They’re the reason why guys like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brews are able to rack up terrific passing yards year in and year out, and why Brandon Jacobs, Michael Turner and Adrian Peterson continue to be solid fantasy backs. So knowing which O-lines are quality and which act like revolving doors to their team’s backfield will give you an edge on draft day.

Below is a ranking of the top five best lines, the top five most improved lines and the top five worst lines in the NFL heading into the ’09 season. Use these rankings as a tool to help you make better decisions on draft day and to also aid you when you’re stuck between a couple of players in later rounds.

Granted, we’re not advocating bumping certain players to the top of your pre-draft rankings just based on these rankings. The Lions offensive line is the worst in football, but if Kevin Smith is there for the taking in the 5th round, by all means jump on him. This article is purely meant to be a helpful aid; obviously you still have to use solid judgment on draft day.

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